Inuit Games

For the Inuit people of northern Canada and Alaska, winter meant storms and many hours of darkness which kept them inside much of the time. Games filled some of the time and gave pleasure to a bleak life. The men enjoyed wrestling, tug of war, and other tests of strength. They performed trapeze acts on a rope of skin stretched across the inside of a house. Everyone participated in community games, regardless of size, gender, or age. They sang, told stories about legendary heroes, and danced to the beat of drums. In his study of the Inuit people, anthropologist Richard B. Windhorst collected their art that recorded these traditional games — 53 prints, a tapestry, 22 sculptures and 14 artifacts that are now in the National Art Museum of Sport. Living on the land in the traditional way, life was a fierce struggle for survival. Competitive games built strength, agility, control, and other skills. Blanket-tosses, string games, mouth-pulling contests, drum dances, and acrobatics were played in the summer when the sun never sets, and in the winter when it never rises. Flexibility, agility and coordination were traditionally prized attributes, valued more highly than powerful muscular strength alone.

Mouth-pulling competitions are combinations of wrestling and pulling games. The game is played with opponents standing side-by-side or face-to-face, with their arms around each other’s necks and index fingers crooked into the sides of each other’s mouths, the opponents strain to be the last to let go. Pitseolak, Parr Kalvak, Anguhadluq, and Pudlo are five of the famed Inuit artists whose works are represented in “Inuit Games.”